Choice is Diktat; Diktat is Choice

by Don Boudreaux on August 11, 2011

in Food and Drink, Hubris and humility, Nanny State, Other People's Money

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Seeking to dictate what other people eat, Elizabeth Newton opines that “In a perfectly functioning economic world, all consumers would receive perfect education about good nutrition and then simultaneously demand that fast-food companies and grocery stores start offering healthy options, thus forcing Big Food to supply what the people demand.  Until that happens, we need regulation of Nestlé, Monsanto, McDonald’s and the rest of the moguls that dictate our diets” (Letters, Aug. 11).

If arrogance were calories, Ms. Newton’s letter would make a Baconator Double burger seem like a broccoli floret.

She assumes that “Big Food” earns higher profits by selling products that consumers really don’t want than by selling products that consumers really do want.  This startling proposition requires for its justification more than Ms. Newton’s presumption that she knows other people’s true preferences better than do those people themselves, and better than do the entrepreneurs who, in competitive markets, earn their livings by satisfying those preferences.

In fact, the likes of Ms. Newton are simply pests preening as know-it-all “Progressives.”  Her superciliousness highlights the truth of H.L. Mencken’s observation that “one man who minds his own business is more valuable to the world than 10,000 cocksure moralists.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux

* H.L. Mencken, “Another Long-Awaited Book” (1926), reprinted on pages 346-349 of Mencken, A Second Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Knopf, 1995); quotation is on page 348.

And as GMU Law Dean Dan Polsby points out to me in an e-mail:

She [Elizabeth Newton] claims that the necessary precondition of liberty is omniscience!  Apparently, only God can be free!

Dan’s is a deeper and better point than the one I focused on in my letter.

Also, Frank Stephenson from over at Division of Labour e-mailed me to point out that fast-food restaurants today do offer salads, bottled water, and other low-calorie fare.  No one is obliged to buy a Big Mac or a chocolate shake for lack of lower-calorie options.


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